Man & Wife by Katie Chase

 

Published:  May 10, 201617230794

Pages:  212

 

 

 

 

Wow!  This is a wonderful collection of short stories that I hope readers will pick up and enjoy.  There are several common themes threading their way through the stories including:  societal gender roles, the competition among and between girls and women, the vulnerability and seeming powerlessness of women in many cultures and the ways in which they are able to rebel, pasts that once seemed laid to rest that come back to haunt… This is a book that is affecting and powerful.  It is a book that makes you reflect.  It is beautiful and horrific at the same time.  I highly recommend this collection of short stories to everyone, but especially to women.  images-2

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  In the first story “Refugees” why do you think the mother was so easily swayed to leave with the guru?
  2. Why do you think that Sammie ran away?
  3. What do you think the appeal of the guru was to all the various people who clamored to see and hear him?
  4. Do you feel the daughter was rebelling or conforming in going to work with her father?
  5. In the second story, “Man and Wife,” why do the parents feel it is ok to marry off their 13 year old daughter?
  6. Do you feel that the daughter rebels or conforms to what society expects of her?
  7. How is the statement “The benefits mature with time” important to the story?
  8. In “Bloodfued,” what do you imagine was the conflict between fathers prior to the murders?
  9. Why do you think Conley tries to befriend Izzy?  Is she trying to befriend her or antagonize her?
  10. Why is Conley kissing Ernie so shocking?
  11. In “Old Maid,”  how do the neighbors view the “old maid?”
  12. Why has she decided to live as she does?
  13. How does her past come back to haunt her?
  14. General Questions:
  15. How are men portrayed in the stories?
  16. How do girls and women regard and treat each other in these stories?
  17. How do sisters and brothers regard and treat each other in these stories?
  18. How do boys and men assert their power and control in these stories?
  19. How do girls and women assert their power and control in these stories?
  20. How are the pasts important in these stories?
  21. What are some rites of passage portrayed in these stories?  How do they affect the characters?

Katie Chase’s website

Publisher’s Weekly Review

 

Zero K by Don DeLillo

 

26154389

 

 

Pages: 274

Published:  May 3, 2016

 

 

 

“Everyone wants to own the end of the world.”  Thus, opens this newest novel by Don DeLillo and these are the words of the protagonist’s father, Ross Lockhart, who becomes obsessed with cryogenics when his wife becomes ill.   The novel begins with the narrator traveling to the Convergence, located somewhere in Russia, so that his step-mother can be frozen, so that she might return many years later.  At Convergence, there is no sense of time or even identity.  People there are cut off from the rest of the world.  Jeffrey Lockhart’s room where he stays is referred to as his “introversion box.”  It forces one to wonder what creates a human identity.  Is it something deep within oneself or is it one’s associations with other people and the world.  Formless meals are eaten in isolation.  Mannequins are a continuing theme and ubiquitous decoration at Convergence.  The films showings scenes of horror and death, pointing to an inevitable apocalypse are the only other break from the quiet and solitude at Convergence.

The cryogenic process itself is brutal.  The bodies are decapitated, organs removed, and they are kept in pods.  The body expected to return would be void of memories, identity, even perhaps, gender.  They seemingly become mannequins.

When Jeffrey leaves Convergence and returns to NYC, there is dramatic contrast of noise, people, lights, and action.   Jeffrey, in his early 30s, is struggling with his identity.  He is jobless, seemingly insecure in his romantic relationship, and he is rejecting living in association with his father.  He is constantly wanting the name things.  He is constantly counting.  These attributes make him seem like he is watching and evaluating the world around him, but not fully living within it.

This is my first Don DeLillo book in over 20 years, since reading Libra which I loved.   Don DeLillo is obviously a brilliant mind, but the darkness and foreboding of this novel was a bit much for me to truly love this novel.  It is a novel that depresses the reader, especially as you get only feelings of emptiness or numbness from the characters portrayed.  However, it is brilliantly written and leaves much to discuss.3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why did Jack limp as a child and then again as an adult?
  2. In what ways does this serve as a cautionary tale?
  3. Why does he call his parents by their first names?
  4. What is the role of the monk and his self-punishing life?
  5. What role does art play in this novel?
  6. What is your impression of the films playing within the convergence?
  7. Do you envision the Convergence as a opportunity for new life or as a mass grave or catacomb?
  8. Why is Jack obsessed with the woman in the stylized pose?  What does he suppose her message to the world is?
  9. Why are names so important in this novel?
  10. Was there an uplifting interval in this novel?
  11. Why do you think Ross Lockhart changes is last name?  Why is Jeffrey upset about this?
  12. What is the role of religion within this novel?
  13. What are the author’s feelings toward cryogenics?  What are yours?

Review published in The Atlantic

Review published in The Guardian

“Among the Ten Thousand Things” by Julia Pierpont

 

23503361

 

Pages: 336

Published: July 7, 2015

 

 

 

 

This debut novel by Julia Pierpont starts off with fireworks.  I found the premise very intriguing:  a box intended for Deb from the ex-mistress of her husband full of every communication  between them is intercepted by her children.  Deb, who had been able to move on with the status quo since discovering her husband’s affair many months prior, now has to rethink everything in light of her children (ages 11 and 15) knowing about her husband’s affair.

This novel is divided into 4 parts.  Part one is the fireworks.  Part two is the camera zooming out and giving a panoramic view of life to come.  Parts 3 and 4 zoom back in again. It is an interesting book that examines the effect of the affair on the husband, wife and the children.  Everyone is struggling in their own ways with the knowledge, the changes in the family dynamic, and all the emotions they are experiencing.  I particularly liked how Kay, the 11 year old daughter, imposed what she knew of the affair into her own rewriting of Seinfeld episodes.  I thought it was interesting how Simon related to the Fountainhead, and how much this bothered his mother.

It is a compelling read, but also a slow moving read for the second half of the book, with characters that are trying their best to weather through very difficult times.  I found myself after the first part wishing for more action, less indecision and vacancy.  I felt like I was lost in the calm after the storm, and read faster and faster as the book went on, really just trying to finish.  Overall, I felt this was a well-written and very polished, intelligent book by an author  from whom I think we will see much more to come.  However, is a difficult book to fully “enjoy” since it deals with so much unhappiness and frustration, which is why I think the ratings for this book are all over the map.  The relationships are all fraught with sadness, loneliness, disappointment, and unfulfillment. For the writing and honesty displayed, I give it images-2, but for my overall “enjoyment” I would give it 2star.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does Jack’s infidelity affect their marriage?
  2. How does this change once the children learn of the infidelity?
  3. How do Kay and Simon initially feel toward their parents about the infidelity?  How does this change as the book progresses?
  4. How does Deb envision that her children view her in this situation?
  5. Compare and contrast Deb and Jack’s relationships with their mothers.
  6. How does Simon relate to the Fountainhead?
  7. Explain the references comparing Simon to his father.
  8. How is Simon’s relationship with Teagan important in the context of the novel?
  9. Compare and contrast Deb and Jack’s love and devotion to their respective art.
  10. Do you like Jack?  Why or why not?  Do you like Deb?  Why or why not?
  11. How does it shape your opinion of the characters that Jack and Deb initially were together through infidelity?
  12. How does Simon and Kay’s relationship shift during this book?

NY Times Review

Julia Pierpont’s website

“Everyone Brave is Forgiven” by Chris Cleave

25814512

Pages: 432

Expected Publication:  May 3, 2016

 

 

 

Chris Cleave is a very talented writer who understands people and relationships so well.  Having loved his novel “Little Bee,”  I was very excited to read this book.  In this epic WW2 historical fiction novel, he deftly describes the area, the people and their relationships as shaped by love, war, and other circumstances.  This novel follows two main characters Alistair and Mary through their experience of the war and how it they cope with loss, love, and various other hardships.

It is a coming-of-age novel about Mary North who suddenly steps out of her life of luxury with the onset of war and puts herself to work as a teacher, falls in love, experiences loss, addiction and many more effects of the war.  There is so much truth to relationships (romantic and non-romantic) as depicted in this novel…the deep hurts they can cause but the huge love and support that is there if both parties are open to it.

I found it interesting and heartbreaking to read about the race relationships of the time in England.   Chris Cleave cleverly shows how people will play the roles they are ascribed to in order to not rock the boat.

There is so much to this book!  Excellent writing, beautiful character  and relationship development, and well researched history.  For whatever reason, perhaps the state of mind I was while reading, it felt lengthy and I felt like I was struggling to get through it at times.  For this reason, I can only give it 3-stars

To see an interactive historical map of London from this time period, check out this link: http://www.az.co.uk/?nid=458.

malta-master-final

 

 

map of Malta, 1941-1942

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Describe Hilda and Mary’s friendship.  How is it affected by their appearances?
  2. What is it about teaching that Mary loves?
  3. Why do you think Mary is drawn into helping Zachary?
  4. What do you think Mary loved about Tom?
  5. How did you feel about her falling for Alistair while Tom was still alive?
  6. What is the meaning of the title?
  7. Why do you think Alistair has his friend, Simonson, start to write to Hilda?
  8. When Alistair returns to the war, why are Mary and Alistair initially strange with each other?

 

Simon & Schuster Reading Group Guide

Chris Cleave’s website

 

 

“Pedro, First Grade Hero” by Fran Manushkin, Illustrated by Tammie Lyon

 

29058868

 

Pages:97

Expected Publication:  September 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

This is an early reader chapter book.  It is full of positive messages, word repetition, simple grammar and plenty of well done illustrations to help decode vocabulary.  I read it with my 6 year old and felt that it was very appropriate for his reading level and interest.  He very much would like to be reading chapter books and this is the perfect easier chapter book for him.   There is a lot of silly humor within this book and at the end.  It is the kind of humor you expect to hear a drumroll with to emphasize that it is funny, the kind of humor adults don’t appreciate so much, but 5-7 year olds think is hilarious.   I give itimages-2 and recommend it to 5-7 years, depending on reading ability.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is Pedro a hero?  Why or why not?  What do you think makes someone a hero?
  2. What do you think makes someone good at soccer?
  3. What kind of qualities do you think are important in a class president?
  4. If you were going to form a club with your friends, what kind of club would it be?
  5. Do you have a favorite bug?

Fran Manushkin’s webpage

“The Night the Stars Went Out” by Suz Hughes

 

29058875

Pages:  33

Expected Publication:  August 1, 2016

 

 

This is a children’s picture book featuring an alien who shines stars and makes no time for friends or play.  One night the stars go out and he goes to earth in search of magic star varnish.  He realizes that as he develops a friendship with a boy on earth that he didn’t need the varnish, he only needed friendship and joy in his heart.  It is beautifully illustrated.  I love that this book teaches children about friendship and balance. This book requires certain leaps of faith to keep up with the plot and logistics (alien floating on earth, boy and alien communicating by phone between earth and outer space), but children are more forgiving of these things.  I would give this 3-stars and recommend it to 2-6 year olds.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you think there is an alien who polishes stars?
  2. What is gravity?  What happens when people go into outer space?
  3. Why is friendship and play important?  Who are your friends?  What are your favorite things to play?

Suz Hughes Website

“Let it Out: A Journey Through Journaling” by Katie Dalebout

 

25779586

Pages: 288

Expected Publication: April 5, 2016

 

 

This self-help book written by 22 year old blogger & yoga instructor, Katie Dalebout did not strike me as original or provide as much insight as I would have hoped.  The first 20% of the book is about the author and how she won a contest with her book idea that she flippantly submitted after attending a conference made up of several of her favorite self-help authors.  Then, it goes into tips about journaling to improve your life, organization, outlook, body image.  It emphasizes forgiveness, gratitude and creativity all of which I think are great.  My problem with this book was that it was the perspective of a 22 year old and the advice seemed geared towards young women in their late teens or 20s.  One tip I will likely use going forward is to awaken 10 minutes earlier in the morning to take time to visualize the day and perhaps set an intention.   I feel like I do try to do this already, but it’s easily forgotten.  2star

Thank you to netgalley and Hay House Publishing for an ARC of this book, it just wasn’t for me!  Perhaps for a younger reader, looking for self-discovery and/or working through issues such as break-ups and body image, it might provide some helpful tools and insights.

Katie Dalebout’s blog

 

 

“The Rent Collector” by Camron Wright

13628812

 

Pages: 304

Published:  September 2012

 

 

 

I really enjoyed the quotes from literature incorporated into the story.  I enjoyed the historical piece,  learning about the Khmer Rouge revolution and the genocide that occurred.  I also appreciated the friendship between Sang Ly and Sopeap.  It was interesting to see Sang Ly see the world differently through literature.

However, I did not feel like the representation of the people living at the dump was accurate or believably portrayed.  I felt that the tone and manner of the characters was off.  There was something almost blissful about the way these people viewed their homes and their way of life that did not ring true to me.  Here were a group of people living in utter abject poverty on the edge of a garbage heap, making their living picking through trash, barely surviving.  They were dealing with gangs, starvation, children being sold into prostitution, and health issues.   I did not feel that the author was truly connected to and connecting the reader to the extreme poverty and desperateness of the situation.  I felt the storyline was an easy enjoyable read that all came together nicely in the end, however it was all hard to swallow. 

I have previously read Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” and felt that she did an amazing job in researching and writing that book.  She lived in Mumbai among the poorest of the poor who also worked as trash collectors and documented their stories in her nonfictional account.  I would highly recommend skipping this book and reading that book instead to get a more accurate rendition of living and social conditions in a slum.

cambodia-1

Map of Cambodia:

Phnom Penh – the city where Sopped grew up as well as where the dump is

Prey Veng Province – Sang Ly’s homeland

5-24-00-truckback25-24-00-womanfoodclose

 

 

 

 

Pictures and details about Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal wastedump in Cambodia.

There were several quotes I liked from the book, including the following.

“People only go to the places they have visited in their minds.”

“If we dive into the pool before it’s full, we’ll hit our heads.”

“Literature is a cake with many toys baked inside – and even if you find them all, if you don’t enjoy the path that leads you to them, it will be a hollow accomplishment.”

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How would you describe Sang Ly and Ki’s relationship?
  2. Do you view Ki as a hero?  Why or why not?
  3. How would you describe Sopeap and Sang Ly’s relationship?
  4. Why do you think that alternative medicine finally works Nisay?
  5. What role does luck play in the novel?
  6. Why do you think Ki is leery of Sang Ly learning to read at first?
  7. How do you think that Sang Ly’s ability to read will affect their lives?

 

Review by the Book Dragon

Reading Group Discussion Guide from Camron Wright’s website

 

 

“Herbie’s Big Adventure” by Jennie Poh

29058881

 

Pages:  41

Expected Publication Date: September 1, 2016

 

 

This is a beautifully illustrated, endearing story of a hedgehog about to set out to forage on his own for the first time.  It teaches about seasons, a mother’s love, leaving home, and separating from mom.  It explains what foraging is.  It teaches what it means to be brave, to overcome fears.  Indirectly, it also teaches about hibernation.  I interpreted the giant snowman in the story as a version of “Old Man Winter,” telling the animal to go to sleep, to hibernate.   When Herbie awakens, it is spring and he reunites with his mother.  The story is told in a way that all the senses are involved.  The words are noisy, soft, soothing, windy, rough, cold, wet at all the right times.  It is an adventure for all the senses.   The illustrations are lovely: sweet and natural, with special appeal to children.  I give this book images-2 and would recommend it to 2-6 year olds.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is foraging?
  2. Why does Herbie fall asleep while he is out foraging?
  3. What season is it when he returns home to his mother?
  4. Why was he gone so long?
  5. How long do you think he was hibernating?

Jennie Poh’s Blog

“The Heart Goes Last” by Margaret Atwood

24388326

Pages: 308

Published:  September 29, 2015

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2015)

 

 

 

“Then he’s unconscious.  Then he stops breathing.  The heart goes last.”

A wacked, absurd novel that becomes obvious satire as the novel continues.  As I read this book, I initially took it very seriously, trying to connect with the characters, understand motives, etc.  However, by the end with the organ harvesting, blue bears knitting by inmates for the pedophiles, sexbots, green man group, Elvises and Marilyns it became obvious that the book is entirely satirical and meant to be comical.  It also serves as a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for.”  Having someone who loves you only because she has had the laser treatment may not be so fulfilling and rewarding in the end.  Perhaps loving someone so completely is easier if you think you’ve had a brain surgery to make you do so.  This novel is very dark and makes you realize that the author believes we are heading as a society in a very unsavory direction.

I was so excited to embark on this novel after reading the premise:  a couple destitute in this futuristic world decides to sign up for “Consilience,”  a social experiment, where you spend alternate months in a prison and in a home with stable jobs within the confines of Positron.  Their relationship becomes strange and a whole lot of sex ensues, none of which is really sexy.  Their freedoms have been lost by joining this program and they have seemingly signed their own personalities away as well.  They become different, much more superficial in their needs and wants.  It’s almost as if having decisions made for them is appreciated, especially on Charmaine’s part.

I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood.  This is the 7th novel of hers that I’ve read and maybe my 6th or 7th favorite of them all.  She’s an excellent writer and this is humorous/chilling social commentary, but I just didn’t connect with it as well as I have some of her other novels.  I must give it images-2 even though it wasn’t one of my personal favorites of hers.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Charmaine continually alludes to her life preceding Grandma Win.  What do you think happened then?
  2. Why do you think Charmaine keeps quoting Grandma Win’s sayings?
  3. Why is Stan leery of getting involved with his brother, Conor, prior to entering Positron?
  4. What is the significance of the blue teddy bears?
  5. Why is it significant that Charmaine has an affair with one of their alternates?
  6. Why do you think Charmaine is willing to kill Stan?
  7. Why do you think Jocelyn coerces Stan to watch the tapes and have repeated sex with her?
  8. What do you think Jocelyn’s full agenda is?
  9. What kind of business do you think Jocelyn and Conor are in?
  10. Do you think Aurora and Phil are happy in the end?
  11. What do you make of Jocelyn’s information at the end to Charmaine for her one year wedding anniversary?  How do you think this will affect Stan and Charmaine’s marriage?
  12. How do you interpret the title?

New York Times Book Review

NPR’s Review of The Heart Goes Last

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